Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

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jddt19
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Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby jddt19 » Sat Mar 02, 2013 7:15 pm

I'm a former assistant state's attorney. Did three years in midsize county (about 120k). Worked in traffic, DUI, misdemeanors and child support. Started in private practice for a small criminal shop (beat a murder on a suppressed confession along the way) and then moved over to being an ASA. Did 17 juries, well over 150 benches, and numerous other hearings (sentencing, mtqs, etc). Most of the postings I've seen here seem to focus on if a particular office is hiring/ taking interns/ etc. Figured I'd try to share the little bit of knowledge I have about what it means to actually be a low level prosecutor or criminal defense attorney. Happy to answer any questions, so I please fire away :)

Anonymous User
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Mar 02, 2013 7:22 pm

I'm currently an entry level ASA at a major prosecutor's office. I'm also happy to provide answers about the same. You can never have too much information.

l0g0s
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby l0g0s » Sat Mar 02, 2013 7:30 pm

Thanks for taking questions!

Most of the prosecutors I've talked to have really enjoyed the work, is that true for you? What's your average day look like? Best and worst parts of the job?

Any and all insight into how to best prepare yourself for getting hired and being successful on the job would also be hugely appreciated. Also, how are your offices hiring in this economy?

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Scotusnerd
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby Scotusnerd » Sat Mar 02, 2013 7:35 pm

Thanks for answering questions. I've got a few:

1. do new District Attorney offices 'clean house' whenever a new DA is elected, or do they generally let everyone stay on with a new boss-man?

2. What would you say the most difficult aspect of the job for a new ADA is?

3. Did you have time to volunteer and help out with local initiatives and generally be a member of the community, or were you pretty much stuck in the office all day?

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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Mar 02, 2013 7:37 pm

As someone with an offer at a major DA/SA (Miami) I'm wondering what the possible DOJ exit options might be down the road, say 3-5 years later?

jddt19
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby jddt19 » Sat Mar 02, 2013 7:52 pm

Yes, I generally enjoyed the work. The office politics/ inane policies could be annoying, but that's part of any job. I also generally felt like what I was doing with was worthwhile, and that has to be helpful in terms of thinking about a job.

As for a typical day... get to the office abut 7:45. Go over emails, grab files for morning call, bs with other ASAs. At 8:30, go down to assigned courtroom (say criminal misdemeanor for this hypo) with a crate of files. From then till about noon, do 'pre-trial hearings.' This is basically sorting cases- agreed plea, open plea, trial, dismissal, etc. Mostly negotiating with defense counsel and then standing in for the plea. On two days a week, we'd have an initial appearance where we'd explain to defendants the charge, their right to counsel, and then make an offer if they wanted to plead guilty (we'd emphasize the right to counsel and the PD, particularly if the offer included jail).

Go up to the office about noon, grab lunch. Usually between 2-7 trials/ substantive motions scheduled for the afternoon, plus a sentencing hearing or three. Watch any associated videos (DUI cop car, store security for retail theft, listen to 911 call on domestic, etc) over lunch. Confer with other low level prosecutors to make sure we have coverage for all trials set. Go down at 1 and sort out trials- some plead, some nolle, some get tried. Try to remember what case it is you're actually trying when doing directs.

When you're done, go back to the office and do charging (review police reports and file charges), respond to motions, do emails, bs with your buddies, etc.

Typical day :)

jddt19
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby jddt19 » Sat Mar 02, 2013 8:03 pm

To the cleaning house post... I only have 1 election cycle, so I certainly can't say for sure. But, based on talking to folks in the office, the answer is mostly no. If you're at the top (in our office, it was the 1st assistant who ran the office), then you're out. But, at the 'moving cases' level like I was, then you're probably fine- someone has to do the grunt work, and you have the local knowledge.

As for the hardest part of being an ASA... trying/ losing terrible cases that you can't dismiss; dealing with recanting domestic violence 'victims'; explaining to cops why you aren't charging cases they bring (and they immediately go to a supervisor over your head); dealing with idiotic office policies; victims who thought you were there private attorney; learning to be in charge of staff. Those would be my headlines. I probably have a story for each :)

the lantern
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby the lantern » Sat Mar 02, 2013 9:57 pm

I see a lot of ADAs and PDs who hang their own shingle after 3-5 years with their agency, usually with a couple of their colleagues. What kind of income can you expect as a private criminal defense attorney? Taking appointed cases doesn't make very much money, so it seems like it would be all based on your ability to bring in business. How hard is to get your firm started/continue to bring clients who can actually afford to pay you?

Also, what kind of exit options are there with respect to civil firms as a former ADA or deputy PD in a mid sized town like yours? I worked at a pretty good sized, very respected private firm and one of the associates was a former DA, but that seemed more the exception rather than the rule-- I don't know of any other former DAs I've met doing civil work. I'm going to start work as a PD post-grad, and I'm not sure I want to do criminal work forever. How pigeonholed is someone according to potential employers? Or is the trial experience that valuable (the former DA at my old firm was an outstanding litigator)?

Rootbeer
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby Rootbeer » Sat Mar 02, 2013 11:59 pm

I'm well aware many of the big offices, due to the caseload, can keep ADAs/ASAs working into the night or on weekends. I also know that some of that is under your control and depends on how much time you want to spend preparing cases. I also understand what unit you are working in often matters. What I would like to know is what time, on a typical day, you get to go home and if you have any idea if working in a mid-size county/district/whatever of 150k or so leaves you more time than working in a big city of say 600k or above.

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bobbypin
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby bobbypin » Sun Mar 03, 2013 4:33 am

Tips for getting an entry level prosecution / public defender job after graduation/passing the bar?

What should I do while in school to make the above better?

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gdane
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby gdane » Sun Mar 03, 2013 3:16 pm

Why did you choose to go into prosecution?

jddt19
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby jddt19 » Sun Mar 03, 2013 6:25 pm

Why did I choose to become a prosecutor? Honestly, I always wanted to be a PD; I interned the local PD's office in undergrad. But, they weren't hiring, I wanted to do criminal law, and the state's attorney offered me a job. Based on my desire to not live in my parent's basement, I decided to take it and ended up enjoying it :).

How late do you work? I was usually out of the office by 5:30 or so, sometimes later. Some of the higher up attorneys were out early, others burnt the midnight oil. It just kind of depended on caseload and if anything high profile was getting ready to go to jury. I certainly worked less hours then I do now.

Tips for getting a job as an ASA- well, I got lucky. I had trial experience as a defense attorney in a small shop in a major city. My dad happened to be on a fund raising committee with the ASA who handled the hiring. My dad mentioned I was looking. The hiring ASA and I had similar backgrounds (same law school, same experience first job out), she liked me, and I got hired. It helped to self myself that I had trial experience and could start without much hand holding. It's also a political office, and the fact that my family knows lots of people (dad is a builder) probably didn't hurt. Otherwise, it was just I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Anonymous User
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Mar 04, 2013 3:15 pm

Thanks for taking questions. I will be starting as an ADA in the fall in a NY office..what are some things you wish you had known before starting as an ASA and/or what are some common mistakes you see rookie prosecutors make?

caveman2
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby caveman2 » Mon Mar 04, 2013 9:55 pm

I'm a 2L at MSU trying to find a prosecution internship this summer. I interned with a smallish/medium DA in Pennsylvania last summer, but it was largely a huge waste of time because they never had anything for me to do about 95% of the time. I would ultimately like to end up in Utah (where I grew up) after graduation, or maybe a city like D.C. or Chicago, but would be willing to go almost anywhere. What offices would it be relatively easy for me to get an internship with this summer, especially this late in the year, where I could get some real practical experience? Are there offices where they take nearly everyone that applies, or at least ones that don't care about grades and place a higher value on good writing skills? I've heard Cook County takes tons of people, is that true? I'm just trying to get anything at this point that will provide relevant experience.

Burple
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby Burple » Mon Mar 04, 2013 10:23 pm

I posted this in another thread, but would love to have your take on it:


I have been out of law school for more than one year. I took the bar exam last February, and since I received my results I have been applying for jobs. At this point, I am only applying for prosecution positions. I did two clinics and an externship in law school. One of the clinics was a prosecution clinic (which is the reason I get any interviews). I did moot court, but did not make the moot court team, therefore, I don't mention that.

I did not know what area of law I wanted to go into while in law school, therefore, I tried my hand at several different things. Now, that I am interviewing, I realize that I am lacking in trial experience. I've never conducted a real trial. I've only taken criminal procedure, evidence and trial advocacy. In one of my interviews, I felt like the people wanted to hire me. They were selling the area to me, etc, but then they found out that I did not have actual trial experience. They have a small office, and do not train their new hires. Apparently, I really impressed them in the interview. They did suggest that I gain trial experience and said they would hire me after gaining this experience. It was the same thing with the other offices I interviewed with. Once they found out I had not conducted a real trial, they were no longer interested. These were ADA positions.

I am writing, because I have another interview next week. This time, it's for a prosecution position that does not handle felonies. Does anybody have any advice on what I can do between now and next week to make up for the trial-experience deficiency? And what can I say in the interview to avoid turning them off with this deficiency?

jddt19
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby jddt19 » Tue Mar 05, 2013 1:23 am

To the poster on getting trial experience (and very very quickly, at that)... I'm not sure what to say. You probably aren't doing a trial in the next week, short of hanging out in a traffic court and seeing if someone will give you 50 bucks to defend their speeding ticket. This probably isn't worth much anyways. You mentioned doing clinics/ externships- did those give you anything in court? I worked two years in law school as a 711 (IL's legal rule for student attorney work) for the City of Chicago's corp counsel in an administrative prosecutions division. I probably only did about 10 cases that actually went to hearing, but I watched quite a few and drafted most of the charging docs for the division. I spun that as being the 'trial experience' that got me my first job in small criminal shop. Even if you're just in court, that must count for something. I had all of undergrad interns (as an ASA) drafting plea agreements, talking to defendants on initial apps, reading police reports- it wasn't 'trial experience,' but they at least had some idea what being in court looked like

jddt19
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby jddt19 » Tue Mar 05, 2013 1:39 am

On internship advice... my goodness, it still strikes me as insane that one has to have 'good grades' to give away your work as an intern. I came out of law school headlong into the 'new normal' of awful economic times in 2008, and it cracked me up when old timers would complain about not getting raises- I was just thrilled to have a job.

As for where to intern... of course, a quality work experience is a great thing. In IL, a 2L can become a '711' (after the IL Supreme Court rule) and do cases under a senior attorney. I did 711 work as an intern for the City of Chicago's corp counsel and loved it- I knew I liked trial work (and got do about 10 hearings) and doing prosecution (my division prosecuted liquor licensees and strip clubs- on some days, I actually got paid to watch 'undercover officers' footage of strippers dancing in clubs to determine if they were wearing attire in conformance with the city's municipal code- ahh, to be young)!

However, at least in my opinion, your best bet is to intern where you want to work. I did an undergrad internship in the same county I was hired as an ASA. My buddy interned in a county down the road. He was uber qualified (and is an AUSA now)- top 14 law school, AUSA internships, 2 published articles in law reviews. And he got hired b/c his boss knew our boss was looking and called and said he's a good guy. My boss didn't even look at his resume until AFTER he was offered the job.

Interning where you want to practice gets you in on the ground floor- you meet the people who know people, you learn the local culture, and see what day to day life is like in an area. I worked as an ASA in downstate IL, and believe me it's an entirely different animal then cook county (which was where I started as a defense attorney).

Best of luck! :)

hopin10
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby hopin10 » Tue Mar 05, 2013 1:46 am

jddt19 wrote:Yes, I generally enjoyed the work. The office politics/ inane policies could be annoying, but that's part of any job. I also generally felt like what I was doing with was worthwhile, and that has to be helpful in terms of thinking about a job.

As for a typical day... get to the office abut 7:45. Go over emails, grab files for morning call, bs with other ASAs. At 8:30, go down to assigned courtroom (say criminal misdemeanor for this hypo) with a crate of files. From then till about noon, do 'pre-trial hearings.' This is basically sorting cases- agreed plea, open plea, trial, dismissal, etc. Mostly negotiating with defense counsel and then standing in for the plea. On two days a week, we'd have an initial appearance where we'd explain to defendants the charge, their right to counsel, and then make an offer if they wanted to plead guilty (we'd emphasize the right to counsel and the PD, particularly if the offer included jail).

Go up to the office about noon, grab lunch. Usually between 2-7 trials/ substantive motions scheduled for the afternoon, plus a sentencing hearing or three. Watch any associated videos (DUI cop car, store security for retail theft, listen to 911 call on domestic, etc) over lunch. Confer with other low level prosecutors to make sure we have coverage for all trials set. Go down at 1 and sort out trials- some plead, some nolle, some get tried. Try to remember what case it is you're actually trying when doing directs.

When you're done, go back to the office and do charging (review police reports and file charges), respond to motions, do emails, bs with your buddies, etc.

Typical day :)


Oof. The bolded troubles me. DAs talking to unrepresented defendants and advising them on the right to counsel?

But thanks for creating the thread, nonetheless. Good to have some folks with experience in here.
Last edited by hopin10 on Tue Mar 05, 2013 1:54 am, edited 1 time in total.

jddt19
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby jddt19 » Tue Mar 05, 2013 1:54 am

To the guy starting as a new ADA (we were ASAs in IL, but I've seen 'Law and Order' for you fancy ADA types :))... congrats on the job and best of luck! My 'advice'-

1) don't take the work home with you (or, you'll take files home, but don't take the actual feelings home). This is remarkably easy when you do traffic, becomes a bit more difficult as you start to do domestic violence and minor league sex cases, and is insanely difficult when you do murder/ rape/ robbery (I did those from the defense side and took the cases home- it's a bad thing);

2) try not to get caught up in the office politics. Just do your job. You're going to be more friendly with some then others in the office (in my case, there was a group of mid twenty young male prosecutors- we had a lot in common and hung out), but don't bad mouth or gossip;

3) treat your secretary well, even when she doesn't deserve it (battling the staff results in pyrrhic victories, at best);

4) respect the PDs and private defense counsel. They've been doing this longer then you, they (especially the PDs) know what a case is worth in your courtroom, and you're going to be working together a lot. Don't be a jerk and understand they have a job. That said, don't roll over either and fail to fight for what a case is worth- it's a fine line to learn :).

5) don't suck at your job. I know this is broad and not helpful, but that's why the only guy my office fired was canned. He sucked at juries, he couldn't move cases, and he pissed off and back talked judges, etc. (Oh, and don't get into a drunken fight in bar and flash your badge to get out of it- also not a good idea).

I'm sure there are more, but that's what came to mind first. Again, good luck! :)

AllezOM
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby AllezOM » Tue Mar 05, 2013 1:56 am

I am currently a Law Enforcement Officer about to head to law school part-time. Since I will be working full time I am not sure I will be able to take advantage of some of the clerk/internship positions while I am in school. Will this put me at a disadvantage?

Have any of you guys worked with an ADA that was a prior LEO?

Thanks!

jddt19
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby jddt19 » Tue Mar 05, 2013 2:05 am

On talking to unrepresented folks... I get there can be something of a queasy feeling... here's my soliloquy I delivered to every defendant who I talked to at an initial app who had not hired counsel.

"Good morning Sir, my name is Assistant State's Attorney ___________. Just so you understand, I'm the prosecutor in this matter. That means I'm not your lawyer; in fact, I'm the lawyer on the other side of the case. In this matter, you've been charged with ______. Under IL law, that's a class A misdemeanor with a maximum possible punishment of 364 days in jail, a 2500 fine, or both. Now, you have the right to an attorney in this matter. If you don't think you can afford an attorney, the Judge will appoint an attorney to represent you if you qualify. Have you thought about hiring or asking the court to appoint you an attorney?

(NO) Ok, you have the right to force the state to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to remain silent, and the right to have witnesses called for you and testify yourself if you choose to. Now, with that being said, I can tell you what the state's offer would be- that is, if you wanted to plead guilty I can tell you what the state is offering for that plea. Please understand, by hearing this offer you aren't giving up any of those other rights- you still can talk to a lawyer and have a trial. If you still want to hear it (pause), the offer is __________. Would you wan some time to think about that offer? If you decide you want to take that offer, I'll put it all in writing and we'll go over it again before you sign off on it."

I delivered this soliloquy thousands of times. I also knew if the offer included jail (or was for a DUI with a million coll consequence) just tried to sell them on a lawyer/ PD.

Anonymous User
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Mar 05, 2013 1:43 pm

Thanks for doing this!

I was offered an ADA position at a good DA office and I think its very likely I may be offered a position at an equally respected PD office. I've been wondering whether you know if either position will lead to better exit options? I've been struggling with the decision because I think I'd truly enjoy both, so I really just want to know what my options would likely be in the future.

jddt19
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby jddt19 » Wed Mar 06, 2013 12:47 am

To the current LEO... one of my buddies as an ASA was a former LEO of decent rank. He went to law school after putting in his 20. He got hired (in large part) because he knew people who knew people- no shame in that, and I'm certainly in the same boat. I thought he was an excellent ASA and he had a kind of credibility with the police that other young prosecutors will never have (ie- he had no problem telling police he wasn't charging a case b/c their investigation was lazy or that they did terrible on the DUI SFSTs and he wasn't going to claim otherwise at trial. He could say these things in a way a junior prosecutor just can't. So, I think it can certainly be helpful having prior LEO experience. Though, as you probably know all too well in coming up as an LEO, who you know can often trump what you know. Best of luck!

jddt19
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby jddt19 » Wed Mar 06, 2013 12:56 am

To the fellow considering ASA/PD options... well, congrats on the offers! I think you might want to start by just thinking on it. Lots of people hold both roles (I did, so did most of my bosses) in doing prosecution and defense work. However, you might have a side that just appeals to you... one of my ASA buddies told me he liked to 'wear the white hat' while a PD pal told me she "wanted to fight for people, not the state."

As for exit options, it depends. If you just want to have trial experience, I imagine both offices are fairly similar. If you want to set up your own shop, ASA is probably the easier route (odd as that may seem). PDs are often stereotyped seen as not 'real lawyers' (yes, this is idiotic, I'm just telling you the mindset of the criminal set). Meanwhile, I always see defense attorney's cards mentioning they are former ASAs. Defendants think it means something, which makes it valuable.

Honestly, I think you should choose the side that you think will make you happy. I switched sides and never regretted it. Once you get a foot in the door, lateral movement is infinitely easier.

Rootbeer
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Re: Entry level prosecution/ criminal defense work

Postby Rootbeer » Wed Mar 06, 2013 1:50 am

Burple wrote:I posted this in another thread, but would love to have your take on it:


I have been out of law school for more than one year. I took the bar exam last February, and since I received my results I have been applying for jobs. At this point, I am only applying for prosecution positions. I did two clinics and an externship in law school. One of the clinics was a prosecution clinic (which is the reason I get any interviews). I did moot court, but did not make the moot court team, therefore, I don't mention that.

I did not know what area of law I wanted to go into while in law school, therefore, I tried my hand at several different things. Now, that I am interviewing, I realize that I am lacking in trial experience. I've never conducted a real trial. I've only taken criminal procedure, evidence and trial advocacy. In one of my interviews, I felt like the people wanted to hire me. They were selling the area to me, etc, but then they found out that I did not have actual trial experience. They have a small office, and do not train their new hires. Apparently, I really impressed them in the interview. They did suggest that I gain trial experience and said they would hire me after gaining this experience. It was the same thing with the other offices I interviewed with. Once they found out I had not conducted a real trial, they were no longer interested. These were ADA positions.

I am writing, because I have another interview next week. This time, it's for a prosecution position that does not handle felonies. Does anybody have any advice on what I can do between now and next week to make up for the trial-experience deficiency? And what can I say in the interview to avoid turning them off with this deficiency?


What did you do in the clinics/externship? Did the prosecution one not let you get in court even for preliminary hearings? Or, are the interviewers insisting that you should have at least misdemeanor trial experience? You will be at a disadvantage, but I don't think it's insurmountable. Depending on whatever you did, the best thing you can do is understand what ADAs do on a day-to-day basis in the office you're interviewing with and spin the experience you do have into something that sounds very close to the duties you'll be handling. For example, if you were doing something like a bankruptcy clinical where you counseled clients, you might consider saying something such as, "I've counseled numerous clients going through tough times from working with [bankruptcy clinical] and want to use these skills to listen and give a voice to victims of crime." Of course, what you actually say will vary on what you did/where you're interviewing, etc. but I hope you get the picture. If you can make the argument well enough, it might go a long way.

That being said, there really is no substitute for actually doing the work. Observing/mock trial/moot/writing memos whatever is good and helpful, but you won't really know if you can/want to do the job until you get your hands dirty. Nothing you do in class will prepare you to deal with large case loads, crying/scared/uncooperative victims, victims who demand harsher penalties than what's in the interest of justice, judges yelling at you, defendants taunting you, handling dismissals or bad calls with grace, and so on. I honestly think some real court experience should be a firm requirement for DA/PD hiring, since I know of people who didn't know what they were in for running away very quickly for something better paying or less stressful.

THAT being said, the court experience won't guarantee you anything (I know first hand *grumble*) and there are definitely people out there who get hired as ADAs without it. At many offices it totally will sink you, but others may not care as much as long as you can make a good argument for the experience you do have. Then there are those weird offices which are infatuated with stats rather than worrying too much about experience, but that seems to be the exception.




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